Under new management, Drexel’s reimagined Flux fosters community

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Drexel battlefest at Flux Space | photo by Marshall Woodruff | courtesy of the artist
Drift performs at the Flux-curated Battlefest | photo by Marshall Woodruff | courtesy of the artist

Everybody’s heard the philosophical question about the tree falling in the forest, and frankly, I could care less about figuring it out. Why should I care if some random tree in some random forest is making noise? It’s a tree. With that being said, when you apply the same question to an up-and-coming band, the answer becomes a lot more interesting and a lot more clear-cut. Yes, of course they can make a sound, but wouldn’t it be a lot more fun if someone was around to hear it?

Before you headline Madison Square Garden and save the world with your music, you just need to find a community that’s willing to give you a chance. For a lot of bands, that community is the school they’re going to—just ask R.E.M., Sleater-Kinney, Slowdive, Radiohead, and countless others. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the more supporting and accommodative that somewhere is, the easier it is to get your feet off the ground. As a student and musician currently finishing up my undergraduate at Drexel, I understand this all too well, but for much of my college career, the campus has lacked a place like-minded friends and I could call home. It wasn’t always that way, though.

About six years ago, a Drexel student received a grant for over $90,000 in top-of-the-line sound equipment. It was eventually installed in the basement of the James E. Marks Intercultural Center, resulting in the birth of Flux, the university’s premier concert venue. For the next few years, the space hosted performances from student, local, and touring acts, including Modern Baseball, The Districts, The Front Bottoms, and more. It was the community-centric space I had always dreamed of in high school, but just as I was beginning to feel optimistic about the future, things took a turn for the worse.

Midway through 2014, “The Man” had his manly say.  It’s announced that the Intercultural Center is being torn down to build a hotel, and shortly after, Flux hosts its last show.  The team spends the ensuing months searching for a new space to no avail. With no venue, they lose funding, the students involved graduate, and just like that, Flux disappears completely.

W.C. Lindsay deejays at Flux circa 2013
W.C. Lindsay deejays at Flux circa 2013

I know what you’re thinking—this sounds a whole lot like the Star Wars prequels. The Jedi Council disbanded, The Chosen One fallen from grace, and The Empire in power, but luckily, that brings us to now, the Episode IV: A New Hope part of the story. In recent months, a new team led by Drexel senior Wil Schade has been working to revive the organization. With the help of a handy portable live kit and a fresh outlook on what Flux is all about, they’re carving a new path for themselves and for those that’ll come after them. I sat down with Schade and event planner Alex Pirro to find out more…

The Key: So, you’re tasked with building Flux back up from square one. What are the steps you take to get the organization back on its feet?

Wil Schade: The first step is to get the organization recognized by the university if we were going to be able to do anything at all. That was a lot of boring administrative stuff that we mentioned like training and writing a constitution and stuff. Then we started having some meetings as to what we could reasonably accomplish given our circumstances. We had no space and no funding, so we needed to get creative. What we did have was an awesome mobile sound system that was purchased by the MIP tech department, so the first idea was to be a live sound equipment and operation organization for other organizations and their events.

Alex Pirro: Working in that capacity didn’t really satisfy us business concentration guys, though. We wanted to get involved in booking, promotion, and everything else that goes into a great show. Then, we were presented the opportunity to work with Mad Dragon Music Group on their 5th Battlefest concert…

TK: Right. We previewed the show a few months back. Can you talk a little about Flux’s involvement?

WS: It was then when we started thinking of Flux as a mobile concert brand. The opportunity came through my involvement in the MAD Dragon Media class, who was primarily in charge of the event and had presented the four previous Battlefests. The concept of the show is that multiple bands are all set up in the same room and they trade songs one by one in a round robin style to create one continuous set of music. I proposed the idea of Flux taking on some of the responsibilities of the show, including the show’s tech needs and booking. We decided to list the show as co-presented by Mad Dragon and Flux, and that was a huge boost for us in terms of getting our name out there in front of students as well as the administration. We were really proud of the lineup, and the show had a great turn-out.

Liz De Lise waits to perform at Battlefest 2017 | photo by Marshall Woodruff
Liz De Lise waits to perform at Battlefest 2016 | photo by Marshall Woodruff

TK: So now the organization is for realsies again and you’ve proven you can put on a good show. How does that change things for Flux, and how do you capitalize on that momentum?

WS: After our involvement in Battlefest, we really wanted to focus on not only further pushing the Flux name to a university who was largely not aware of our existence or history, but also on really getting the systems and procedures in place so that the organization had solid legs to stand on. We had overwhelming underclassmen interest in the organization and we really wanted to give everyone meaningful jobs to do.

We knew that wouldn’t be possible if we were just doing shows, though. We had general body meetings in which a ton of brainstorming took place. It was these meetings that gave birth to our “Flux Features” video series as well as our intimate acoustic series “Study Break.” Beginning in January, the Mad Dragon Media class was not running and we saw that as an opening for us to provide some really cool Flux-style programming that focused on local talent. We reached out to the incredible Leonard Pearlstein Gallery and were able to work with them in presenting a really cool show featuring local female solo acts on their “Philly Front Porch” construction that was part of Drexel’s 125th Anniversary exhibit.

TK: So where other Drexel organizations like Dragon Concert Series were focusing on national, touring acts, you were setting your sights on new, local talent.

WS: Yes, we never had any attention of getting into the large budget huge capacity shows that usually happen twice a year through Drexel’s CAB or Dragon Concert Series. We wanted to engage the more avid, underground music fans of Drexel and bring the incredible music scene that is present here to the forefront.

AP: Another main goal of Flux is to not only engage the students interested in the business and production side of shows, but students around campus who would like to perform their material in a professional setting.

WS: Yeah, Flux is also an educational resource for students looking to run shows but also for performers to get experience starting out.

AP: Made by students for students.

TK: With that in mind, what’s on the horizon for Flux? All of you guys are seniors now, so what are your hopes for the organization’s future and the legacy you want to leave behind?

AP: I hope to see Flux expand in a lot of ways, and one way we’re trying to do that is by expanding the breadth of the shows we book. We are targeting Philadelphia artists with a larger following. By the same token, we’re expanding where we have shows. Recently, we introduced ross commons as a suitable place for acoustic music, and going forward, we want to utilize the Pearlstein lawn and other unique spots around the university.

WS: We’re also working with MAD Dragon again to present a producer showcase that will cap off an Ableton University all-day event at Drexel featuring workshops on electronic music production. We hope to continue with our Flux Features and Study Break series and further cultivate more ideas so that we can end this school year on a high note and that the next wave of Flux leadership can come out strong starting in the fall.

Check out the latest edition of Flux Features, featuring Philadelpphia indie rock duo Honeytiger, below.

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